AC Unplugged 2022 Wraps: 6 Ways to Keep Saving Energy All Year Long

By Kabyl Utley ’24 and Audrey Rodgers ’23

Q: What is AC Unplugged?

A: AC Unplugged is an annual energy saving competition hosted by THINK, pitting the four traditional residence halls at Austin College against each other — and themselves — to reduce their energy use throughout the month of October. The event aims to help students lower their energy consumption, make better usage habits, AND benefit the local community through charitable donations made by THINK on behalf of contest winners.

Q: How do you win the competition and what is the prize?

A: THINK records baseline data for each residence hall at the end of September, then uses that baseline to graph changes in energy use overall and per individual throughout October. The residence hall that reduces their consumption the most from the baseline is awarded the top prize. The prize for first place is $300, second place is $250, third place is $200, and fourth place is $150. All halls cooperatively donate their prize money to a local charity of their choice at the end of the competition. The first-place winner is also awarded the official Thinking Green Championship Belt, along with bragging rights for next year’s competition.

Q: Which residence hall won the 2022 competition?

A: Baker Hall narrowly took first place over Dean Hall and Caruth, last year’s victor. Baker Hall residents reduced their energy consumption by nearly 60 percent compared to baseline data over the course of the competition. Nearly 4,000 kWh of energy savings were recorded for Baker alone. Baker donated their $300 prize to the Grayson County Crisis Center.

Q: Why is saving energy important? What are the benefits?

A: Saving energy is important for the environment for various reasons: it can help lessen carbon emissions, reduce pollutants in the air and water, and conserve vital natural resources. Current energy production often requires the burning of fossil fuels. By reducing our overall energy usage, we are effectively decreasing the amount of energy needed to be produced, resulting in a more sustainable system.

Q: What are some ways that students can reduce their energy use?

A: We’re glad you asked! Overconsumption of energy is a big contributor to climate change. According to the EPA, 40 percent of all energy consumed in the United States is used for electricity. Reducing your use of electricity is essential for reducing your environmental footprint. In college, it’s easy to get caught up in your school work and social life and disregard your impact. However, there are many simple ways in which you can alter your behavior that have beneficial impacts on the environment. Here are six easy ways to keep saving:

Flip the switch! It is so simple, yet so effective. Ensure your lights are off when not in use. You could even opt out of using artificial light entirely by opening your blinds during the day and using natural light instead. You could also consider using more energy efficient light bulbs, such as LEDs, and rely on lamps for light during the night.

Unplug (literally) Contrary to what you may think, electronic devices still use energy when they’re plugged in, even if they aren’t in use. Unplugging lamps, TVs, laptops, and other electronics can help conserve energy. Using power strips could make this even easier — just flip the off switch, and it’ll power down all your devices at once! Also, it isn’t necessary to keep your phone or laptop plugged in overnight. Just make sure your device is fully charged before you go to bed, so you can keep it unplugged through the night.

Use cold water Using cold water instead of hot water helps conserve energy by reducing the amount of energy required to heat it. Taking cold showers or washing your items in cold water is a good way to implement this. You could also reduce the amount of time you spend in the shower if you are using hot water. A fun way to do this can be by putting on music while you’re in the shower and getting out when the first or second song is over.

Skip the AC, open a window! Instead of using your air conditioner, open a window! Not only will it help conserve electricity, but also your energy bill. To make it easier, dress for the weather. In the winter, pile up under some blankets or wear a sweater inside if you get cold. In the summer, stick to lighter clothing or turn on a fan. Electric heaters, anyone?

Take a hike (to class) Here at Austin College, we are lucky to have an easily walkable campus. Considering it is so small, walking to class is easy. It can decrease your energy consumption and increase your overall physical wellbeing. Driving to classes increases the amount of emissions cars put into the atmosphere, as well as how much money you’re spending on gas. According to the CDC, spending at least 150 minutes doing physical activity per week significantly reduces your risk for many chronic diseases. Many college students struggle to find time for physical activity during the school year, so walking to classes is an easy way to ensure you’re getting those steps in. There are so many benefits to walking!

Change your laundry habits There are many ways we can change our habits when it comes to doing laundry that can reduce our environmental footprints significantly. Spacing out how often you do your laundry can not only decrease your energy use, but also your water usage. Instead of doing frequent, small loads of laundry, just do big loads less often. This can save the amount of time you spend on laundry as well. You can also skip the dryer! Letting your clothes air dry keeps them in good shape, so they last longer and it doesn’t require any energy.

My Summer at the East Foundation

By Kabyl Utley ’24

Kabyl Utley (left) and another intern at the East Foundation.

This past summer I was given the opportunity of interning for the East Foundation for two months. The East Foundation is an organization that promotes the advancement of land stewardship through ranching, science, and education. They are a working cattle ranch, managing over 217,000 acres in South Texas. Here, scientists and ranchers work side by side to address the problems that are important to wildlife management, rangeland health, and ranch productivity.

I always knew Texas was a huge state, so it was no surprise to me that I would have to drive around six hours from my home in central Texas to the ranch where I would be working. The ranch that I worked at encompassed more than 150,000 acres and was located in the South Texas Sand Sheet. The change of scenery from central Texas to the ranch was absolutely mind blowing. Beautiful flowering cacti and plants dotted the sides of the highways. The plant life there was very pretty, except for the fact that essentially every plant has spines or thorns of some sort.

A typical workday in the punishing south Texas sun.

I’m not originally from Texas, so I haven’t been around cattle ranches that much up until this past summer. Working on the ranch as a “Ranch Ecology Technician” was one of the greatest experiences I have ever had in my life up until this point. The never-ending sandy dunes of the South Texas Sand Sheet, along with the beautiful wildlife that scattered the hundreds of acres were simply amazing to witness. I worked alongside three other interns, along with many other groups of scientists who worked on different research studies around the ranch. I was even lucky enough some days to even go out with some of these different groups to help them out with their research.

My tasks as an intern focused on collecting data for two different research studies. The first research study was determining the amount of preferred and nonpreferred vegetation present around the ranch. We did this by collecting data at about 100 different points at various set locations at the ranch. Our supervisor would then use this data to determine the stocking rates of the cattle for the next few years, along with seeing if the current ranching techniques are sustainable or not. Our second research study focused on the population and habitat quality of the bobwhite quail on the ranch. We did this by visiting 140 set points around the ranch, using various factors such as woody density, bundle grass size/density, and vegetation height, to then determine whether or not bobwhite quails have available quality nesting sites.

My favorite experience from the entire internship was being able to see the wildflowers bloom after a rainstorm one night. Because I live in such an urbanized town, I am not used to seeing native wildflowers and plants bloom after it rains, so being able to witness such a beautiful thing was amazing. Being able to just step outside of headquarters on the ranch and see hundreds of stunning, unique flowers dotting the landscape was truly spectacular and peaceful. It was one of those moments where you kind of just stand there and soak in the beauty that life is and the beauty that it brings with it. It was moments like these that I was grateful to be given the opportunity to intern at a place like the East Foundation.

GreenServe 2022 brings out students’ green thumb

By Brittany McMillen ’22

On April 23, 2022, AC students participated in the college’s 12th annual GreenServe service event, where volunteer projects are focused on environmental responsibility and sustainability. Co-sponsored by THINK and the Austin College Service Station, this event has generated over 3,500 service hours for volunteering students since the project began in 2010. It has also spawned numerous collaborations with area non-profits and other organizations within the community.

Students, alone and in organizations, are encouraged to sign up in the weeks leading up to GreenServe. During the week of the event, smaller gatherings are normally hosted to raise awareness about the upcoming service day. This year, THINK hosted an art night, where students got to make wearable buttons and other art using recycled materials, and a “Beengo” bingo night, where the hosts provided facts about bees and how they are an integral part of the ecosystem facing immense environmental pressure. Bees were the theme of this year’s event.

At 8:30 a.m. Saturday morning, all the students, staff, and faculty that signed up to volunteer gathered at the College Green, where they received official GreenServe 2022 T-shirts and donuts provided by Momo’s as a send off before they began volunteering. Then teams of students, each with a THINK member as their site leader for the day, peeled off to various places in the Sherman/Denison community to complete or assist with a service project.

At the Sherman and Pottsboro community gardens, students worked to maintain beds and prepare them for further planting. At two Habitat for Humanity sites, students in Lambda Chi fraternity worked to organize and maintain the Restore thrift store warehouse, while the CHAMPS disability advocacy group on campus continued construction on a historic 100-year-old home site near in Denison. At Eisenhower State Park and Sneed Prairie, students in organizations such as Rho Lambda Theta and Gamma Gamma Gamma completed regular maintenance needs like trail clearing and fence repair. At multiple highways, Alpha Phi Omega and Service Station board members collected trash. In Sherman’s downtown square, yet another group of students assisted with tabling and logistics for the Texoma Earth Day Festival and recycling event hosted by the City of Sherman.

A unique feature to this year’s GreenServe was the increased opportunity for groups to complete service on campus. This semester, the Center for Environmental Studies and THINK launched the “Adopt a Butterfly Bed” on campus. The goal is to revamp our campus flower beds with native, perennial grasses and flowers that are planted and maintained by student organizations throughout the year. Alpha Phi Omega, the Drakes, and Theta Sigma Chi were among some of the groups that adopted a bed and spent their GreenServe morning on campus working in their beds.

“Adopt a Butterfly Bed” proposal approved

The Center for Environmental Studies is happy to announce that its recent proposal to increase native, perennial landscaping on campus has been enthusiastically approved by the college’s senior leadership. The “Adopt a Butterfly Bed” project will not only help to enhance campus aesthetics, but ultimately aims to provide learning and service opportunities for interested student and staff groups while promoting biological diversity and increasing native habitat area and ecosystem services. Hardy perennials also require less water and active maintenance than annuals, saving additional college resources and manpower. 

Environmental Studies faculty and staff members worked with the Physical Plant’s Executive Director of Facilities, David Turk, to create the proposal last fall. Since then, ENVS staff and students have worked to review and expand upon a list of suggested native and perennial plants for our area, identify suitable beds for adoption around campus, and establish connections with the local chapter of Master Gardeners, who are excited to lend a green thumb to burgeoning horticulturists at AC. 

The project has already garnered interest from a number of student organizations on campus, but staff and faculty groups may also apply to adopt. Once high priority beds have been distinguished, beds will be assigned on a first-come-first-served basis. The Center for Environmental Studies will distribute tools and training materials in addition to scheduling information sessions for adoptive groups. To maintain a high standard, groups will sign a contract outlining their responsibilities and adopted beds will undergo quality control inspections on a regular basis. 

If you or someone you know would like to get involved with this project, please reach out to ENVS coordinator Rebecca Jones or faculty member Dr. Mari Elise Ewing to express your interest.  

In honor of this laudable landscaping announcement, we’ve (almost literally) taken a page from the work of late local author and Grayson County Master Gardener Jessie Gunn Stephens to offer a few tips for maintaining your own Texoma garden. Her book, “When to do What in your Texoma Yard and Garden,” is available for sale at the Agri-Life Extension office in the Grayson County Courthouse. 

Francesco Gallarotti / Unsplash

How to Plant from Pots 

  1. Take the plant out of the pot. Seems like a no-brainer but, as Stephens writes, “you’d be amazed how often this comes up.” While some pots are biodegradable, Stephens prefers removing the pot to allow for quick root growth. 
  1. Inspect the plant’s root system. Understanding the strength of a plant’s roots can help inform your watering and care practices. Thin, weak roots indicate that a plant may require special treatment until it is established. Thicker, hardier roots (especially in perennials) are more likely to survive transplantation but need to be loosened to allow for spreading. 
  1. Don’t pile dirt over the root ball. According to Stephens, “It’s almost always best to set a plant in the ground so that the surface of the soil ball is either level with or fractionally higher than the surrounding soil.” 

Happy planting!

Summer 2022 internships available

By Tulwen Adams ’22 & Rebecca Jones ’13

The Austin College Environmental Studies Program will offer three opportunities for internships during the summer of 2022. The internships are hosted by the Land Institute, located in Salina, Kansas; Little Traverse Conservancy in Northern Michigan; and the East Foundation in South Texas.

A degree in environmental studies opens the door to a wide variety of future career paths, a prospect that can be both exciting and daunting. Taking a summer to explore a career is a great way for students to narrow down their options or explore previously unknown career paths. These internships offer experience in the developing field of sustainable perennial agriculture with the Land Institute, land conservation and easements with Little Traverse Conservancy, and the practice of land and wildlife stewardship alongside ranching with the East Foundation.

Past interns have found their time in these internships to be an excellent means to gain experience in the field of environmental studies, as well as granting insight into future career paths and providing opportunities to learn from professionals across a variety of fields.  

Thinking about applying? Here are some tips from past interns:

  1. Apply Early. Don’t let the application process interfere with your spring coursework — spend some time over the break reading through the AC internship and host organization websites to figure out the best fit for you and get your thoughts on paper. The Center for Environmental Studies will help you handle everything else.
  2. Ask Lots of Questions. Not sure which internship opportunity best suits your career path or goals? Contact an ENVS faculty or staff member to express your interest and concerns. You can also ask other students who have previously held internships — they usually love talking about their experience!
  3. Come Prepared. You’ve officially secured your internship, but what should you pack for the journey? Staples like hats, sunscreen and bug spray are a must for most sites, but many former interns also recommend bringing items that remind you of home. Don’t forget your lucky socks, favorite stuffed animal, comfort food, etc.
  4. Explore and Interact. Many former interns report that one of the highlights of their experience is the people they work with on a day to day basis. Get to know your bunkmates and co-workers, and take the time to visit other locales of interest to make your internship richer, more fulfilling and memorable.
  5. Be Ready to Work Hard. Manual labor is a part of all the internship experiences provided by the Center for Environmental Studies, but that shouldn’t deter you from applying if you have a real interest in the overall mission and/or goals of the host organizations. It’s also important to remember that you are a representive of the college when you are at these sites, so act accordingly.

For more information on the host organizations and application process, please visit the internship page on the Center for Environmental Studies website.

AC Unplugged promotes healthy competition

By Brittany McMillen ’22

Austin College students are currently competing in the twelfth annual AC Unplugged energy savings competition. The goal of the competition is to teach good energy use habits and to educate students on the environmental impact of high energy consumption.  

AC Unplugged has been a campus tradition for over a decade, beginning in 2010 as a way to encourage a reduction in campus emissions. Since then, the competition has raised over $10,000 for local and national charity organizations and saved more than 97,000 kilowatt hours of electricity between the four residence halls: Caruth, Clyce, Dean and Baker.   

Over the years, the Grayson Crisis Center, Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Grayson County, the Texoma Health Clinic, and the Grayson County chapter of Habitat for Humanity have received a large portion of the money donated after being selected by the halls’ popular vote, with the most money being donated by the winning hall each year.  

The theme for this year’s competition celebrates a classic pop ensemble as it encourages students to “spice up their lives” by saving energy. The Spice Girls theme for the 2021 year was selected to encourage campus residents to try new ways to have fun that don’t involve using electricity. In the final week of the competition, Caruth Hall is leading the way with a nearly 30 percent reduction in energy use compared to the baseline.  

AC’s traditional residence halls have already saved more than 30,000 kWh in this year’s contest – a new record. Students have participated in an outdoor game night and a hot sauce eating competition, painted terracotta pots for spice planting, and, this week, are strutting their stuff in a thrifty Spice Girl Lookalike contest. What are you doing to reduce your energy use? 

Austin College (still) Recycles

By Tulwen Adams ’22

With Austin College teaming up with Recyclops to get back to recycling on campus, it’s a good time to ask some fundamental questions about recycling contamination. Namely, what it is, and why it matters.

What is recycling contamination?

Recycling contamination is any non-recyclable item that winds up in the recycling stream. Some contamination might seem obvious, like soiled motor oil containers. Other contaminants are less apparent, like wax-lined paper cups. The two best ways to avoid recycling contamination are to familiarize yourself with what is and isn’t recyclable according to the guidelines of your local service, and to trash items you aren’t sure about. If you’re not sure whether an item is recyclable or not, it’s better off in the trash than contaminating the recycling. Remember, one more item heading to the landfill is better than an entire container of contaminated recycling heading to the landfill.

Why does it matter?

Contaminated recycling doesn’t get reused or repurposed, it goes to the landfill. Even if the recycling isn’t taken to the landfill, contamination creates a major problem for recycling facilities. Contaminants such as plastic bags can wrap around the machinery used to sort and process recyclables, leading to a shut-down of the facility while employees climb inside the equipment to clean out the tangled items. Food containers — like pizza boxes — are often stained with grease that soaks into the paper. If the boxes end up in the recycling, they will be processed along with clean recyclables, contaminating an entire batch of paper pulp with grease and rendering it non-reusable.

What can AC students do to help?

Following the Recyclops guidelines for recycling is essential. So, before you recycle, ensure that:

  1. You have the right bag for your recycling. If you live in the North or South Flats, Bryan Apartments, Roo Suites, or Cottages, make sure you have the required green recycling bags to collect your loose recyclables. You can collect a semester’s supply of these bags from the Environmental Studies Coordinator, Rebecca Jones.
  2. Your items are recyclable. Recyclable items on campus include plastics number 1, 2, or 5; paper; cardboard; and metal containers, such as food tins or soda cans. Ensure that all items are dry and clean of food residue. Paper with dry ink is fine, but wet, shredded or plastic-coated paper is not recyclable. For more information, check out the AC Recycling page.

Remember, if you aren’t sure whether an item is recyclable or not, it’s better to put it in the trash than to risk contaminating the whole container. When in doubt, throw it out!

Spring 2021 Lunch Talks: Anthony Swift ’03

By Tulwen Adams ’22

Anthony Swift ’05

During the fall and spring semesters, the Austin College Environmental Studies Department hosts a series of lunch talks designed to give current students a chance to meet with alumni (as well as other experts and professionals) to learn about the wide array of environmental professions and career paths that alumni have pursued after graduation. The talks are also an opportunity for students and faculty to learn about the projects, research and campaigns headed and assisted by alumni in a variety of fields, from the solar industry to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). In April 2021, Anthony Swift, the current director of the Canada Project of the NRDC, spoke about the organization’s largest undertaking: blocking the development of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Anthony Swift graduated from Austin College in 2003 with a Bachelor of Arts in political science and biology. As an undergraduate, Swift was an active member of the Austin College community, holding a position as Student Assembly President alongside an active membership in Phi Beta Kappa. As a junior, Swift was internally nominated for the Truman Scholarship in recognition of outstanding academic commitment to pursue a career in public service.

Following the completion of his degree at Austin College, he attended the University of Pennsylvania Law School, graduating in 2010 with a doctorate in law. Five years later in 2015, Swift would become the director of the Canada Project with the Natural Resources Defense Council. His work with the NRDC in blocking the Keystone XL pipeline represents the work of an agency undertaking a massive endeavor.  

In Anthony’s words, at its most fundamental level, the Keystone XL pipeline represents a large-scale threat to human and environmental health. On the local scale, communities and ecosystems near the points of extraction, refining and transportation of tar sands face the threat of oil spills, the release of toxic contamination and environmental degradation. On the global scale, the distribution and use of fossil fuels derived from tars will increase the production of greenhouse gas emissions, spurring further climate change.

The site of tar sands extraction in Canada is northern Alberta. The local ecosystem is the boreal forest, one of the largest remaining intact forests on earth. The forest provides a wide array of ecosystem services, including climate change mitigation through the storage of atmospheric carbon. The mining of tar sands leaves large tracts of the boreal forest stripped bare of vegetation and interspersed with tailing ponds holding the toxic waste generated by extraction. In essence, mining tar sands transforms a thriving ecological community into a wasteland. In describing this transformation, Anthony recounted a flight he took over the tar sands fields. He showed a photo: a side by side of the boreal forest before and after tar sands extraction. The before photo showed a landscape of dense forest interspersed with clear lakes, pocket-sized from the height of the plane. The after photo showed a site of dark-looking, bare ground stretching into the distance that, in Anthony’s words, wouldn’t have been out of place in a post-apocalyptic, “Mad Max-style” movie set.

Environmental justice plays a key role in Anthony’s work and by extension the work of the NRDC. The Keystone XL pipeline project threatens the health and safety of the First Nation peoples of Canada, particularly in Northern Alberta where tar sands extraction, and consequently pollution, is concentrated. In the United States, the planned path of the Keystone pipeline would have driven through the tribal homeland of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, before continuing on through the Sand Hills of Nebraska, one of the most ecologically sensitive regions in the United States. Although Anthony highlighted the threat to both regions cultural and ecological importance, he noted that a spill anywhere along the route of the pipeline has the potential to cause massive environmental damage.

Transportation is key to the production and distribution of tar sands. The NRDC’s work to stall the transport of oil into the United States led to a decline in the total amount of tar sands extracted. There are 3 million barrels a day on today’s market. Had the Keystone XL project gone forward, that number would have risen to 5 million barrels per day — meaning 5 billion more barrels of oils refined into fossil fuels, threatening local communities and ecosystems along the way.

We are thankful to alums like Anthony not only for taking the time to speak with AC students and staff, but for the tremendous efforts they put forth to protect our environment. Other spring 2021 lunch talk speakers included:

  • Vero Tessier ’21, an upcoming AC grad who defended her honors thesis on wildflower abundance and conservation at the Sneed Prairie Restoration Project.
  • Natalia Carter ’05, an independent solar consultant working to bring awareness to the benefits of renewable energy.
  • Sabina Wilhelm, a biologist with the Canadian Wildlife Service working to monitor and protect seabirds in eastern Canada.

Photos courtesy of nrdc.org

My Summer at the Little Traverse Conservancy

By Madison Talmage ’21

This past summer I had the amazing opportunity of interning for Little Traverse Conservancy (LTC) for eight weeks. LTC is a land trust in Northern Michigan that has been protecting land since 1972. They protect the natural diversity of Northern Michigan through nature preserves and conservation easements. I spent some of the best months of my life at this internship, and I’m so appreciative that I had the chance to go. My time there flew by because I enjoyed it so much! I was gratefully accompanied by another Environmental Studies student, Tulwen Adams.

After a long, twenty-hour road trip, I was immediately fascinated by the beauty that Michigan holds: green everywhere, bright blue waters of Lake Michigan, and chipmunks! The office of LTC is tucked up within one of their nature preserves, which made it all the more magical to work there. The LTC staff warmly welcomed us; it was incredible getting to know them. Despite being in a pandemic, they still found ways for us to connect, like having outdoor, socially distant picnics and other fun get togethers.

My work days were filled with maintaining LTC’s nature preserves, and my weekends were spent adventuring around Northern Michigan and its upper peninsula with Tulwen. A typical workday would begin with driving to LTC’s barn, picking up tools and instructions for the day, then travelling to any preserve that needed maintenance. We often would mow trails, insert logo/information signs, or remove invasive species. We would occasionally build boardwalks, go bat monitoring, or establish native plants within the preserve. One of the best parts about this internship is that we did something different every day.

My favorite experience from the entire trip was going to Beaver Island. It is the largest island in Lake Michigan, and LTC has several nature preserves there. People live on this island, so interns have to maintain the hiking trails on it every couple years. We flew over Lake Michigan in a tiny six-seater plane, which was a little scary but incredibly exciting! My coworkers and I purposely finished our preserve monitoring pretty quickly so we would have a lot of time to explore the island together afterwards. My most cherished memories from this internship consist of the adventures that we had on this island.

Interning at LTC taught me valuable lessons that I will forever carry with me. I learned how nature preserves and conservation easements operate, how to use certain tools, and how to successfully restore degraded land into a natural area. I also gained more insight on the type of career I want to have in the future. Working with such a close-knit group of colleagues made me desire a type of workplace like LTC. Lastly, and most importantly, this internship substantially increased my independence. I feel more confident in a work setting and with the idea of moving away. I sincerely miss my time in Michigan so much. I can’t wait to visit again to see the progress on the projects that Tulwen and I worked on and catch up with the LTC crew!

Photos by/courtesy of Madison Talmage

Sneed Prairie Restoration awarded 2020 Texas Environmental Excellence Award by TCEQ

By Tulwen Adams ’22

In the spring of 2020, the Austin College Sneed Prairie project received the Texas Environmental Excellence Award (TEEA) for the provision of outstanding education to K-12th grade students in Grayson County, Texas. Recipients of the TEEA are recognized as leading environmental programs with the potential to inspire like-minded organizations and individuals to implement initiatives within their own communities.

The 2019 recipient of the TEEA is EcoRise, a non-profit organization which has served over 68,000 students by providing access to materials, training, and grants to fund environmental education and initiatives in Texas schools. With the precedent set by the exceptional work of EcoRise, it is an honor for the Austin College Sneed Prairie Project to be similarly awarded, as well as a credit to the hard work, dedication, and generosity of the benefactors, faculty, and students of the Austin College community.

The Sneed Prairie was donated to Austin College in 1984 by Clinton and Edith Sneed. The property is comprised of one hundred acres divided into nine experimental fields and one remnant of intact prairie. With the inception of the Sneed Prairie restoration project in 1996, treatments of fire, cattle, and mowing were implemented on the nine experimental fields with an end goal of evaluating their effectiveness while restoring the site to native tallgrass prairie.

Old Sneed Farm
Photo provided by the Sneed family (c.1950s)

As well as providing an opportunity for research and restoration, the Sneed Prairie also serves Austin College and the larger Grayson County school system as an invaluable educational resource. Austin College students in the biology, physics, and environmental studies departments have the opportunity to study the Sneed Prairie during laboratory classes, or as upperclassmen participating in independent studies. Every two years, students of all departments have the option of taking a January Term class focused on the controlled burning of select fields at Sneed.

The field trips conducted at the Sneed Prairie are designed to provide environmental education on the history, ecological function, and importance of restoration projects to students from elementary, middle, and high schools in Grayson County. Austin College undergraduates lead the trips, engaging students in activities designed to model water uptake or native grass seed dispersal on the prairie. The prehistorical legacy of the prairie is still apparent in the 21st century ecosystem, which is also highlighted to students.

AC student field trip guides help local 4th graders discover the natural world at Sneed Prairie

The Texas landscape which today is comprised of agricultural fields, with a few prairies similar to Sneed scattered in between, was an inland sea during the Cretaceous, 65 million years ago, evident today by the fossils still found along riverbeds. Alongside the prehistory of the prairie, K-12th grade students have the opportunity to explore more recent history of the prairie by learning about how the bison, wolves, and wildfires maintained the prairie as a grassland with few trees. As of fall 2019, the Sneed Prairie project has provided education to more than 11,000 schoolchildren during these field trips.

Highlights from the 2021 Prairie Restoration JanTerm course at Sneed

(Photos by Syed Kamal)

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